“Because, I mean, it seems so indefinite, really.” He gestured vaguely off to one side, floppy sleeve almost totally covering his hand. “You say you've grown up, you say I haven't. You're probably right, you know, but really, if it's so necessary you'd think I'd have got the hang of it by now.”
“You are grown up. You just refuse to admit it; you see the world like a kid and you refuse to believe anything else!”
“And is that really so terrible?” The magician stopped. “I do believe in other things. I know bad things happen. I know the lies. I know the truth. But I don't have to believe that all the good things are gone either.” He looked away, out the tiny windows. “Grown-up, I think, is when you decide to stop believing that things can be amazing. Maybe not big things, but little things. You stop seeing things as beautiful, and just start seeing things as there. You don't think it matters anymore.”
“It doesn't.” The inventor stopped as well, finally turning to face the magician.
“Why not?” He spread his hands, palms up. “It mattered then. It was beautiful then. Does the magic of the world really have to die that quickly?”
“It's just... not anymore.” The inventor leaned against the doorway, really thinking about it now. “Things just aren't amazing, and aren't beautiful.”
“Not anymore.” The magician sighed, taking off both top hats and closing his eyes in the afternoon sunlight. “Do you know, it's so much easier to grow up than it is to grow back down? I did grow up, you know. It was the worst thing that ever happened to me, and it was so hard, so very hard to grow back down. I had to choose to believe in the magic, every day. I had to look for it.”
“You can't grow back down. Not once you've grown up.” The inventor shook his head. “It's impossible.”
“No.” The magician smiled, then put his hat back on. “Just hard.”
He was a secret, once, before. A real secret, like between two lovers, whispered quietly or not at all, and for no one else, no one, not ever. He was hidden well, hidden perfectly. He may have been loved, he may have been hated. It didn't matter. He was simply secret.
But she, she is the child, who looks in at the wrong moment and sees. Only a child, knowing not what she's found, not what it means or what desperate lovers will do to take their secret back. She only knows that she has found it, and she likes it. And it is her secret too, now. He is her secret, not hidden so well, but still hidden. Better loved, at least.
But she is a child, and children cannot keep secrets. She may whisper it to one, perhaps only to herself, but the other children will hear. And whispers, only ever whispers, spread like fire. The whole world will burn before too long, but she doesn't know that yet, for she is a child. He is still secret, now and for as long as she can keep him. But her parents will whisper, and her neighbors will whisper, and whispers echo and burn. The secret will be a secret to all of them, until he is a secret to none.
And then the world will burn, and he will burn, and be gone. Ashes.
“You amaze me.” Crash shook his head. “What, did you trade the part of your brain that handles emotions for a double dose of mechanical knowledge?”
“I guess.” Jack shrugged, blandly trying to explain himself. “I can't see any other reason I could be this bad at this.”
“Lack of practice would be my guess.” Crash looked his employer over skeptically. “Though I honestly can't say I was ever as bad as you.”
“Whatever,” Jack sat against the wall with a sigh. “She's not mad at me, I think.”
“There is absolutely no way you can be certain about that.” Crash warned. “She is still a woman.”
“What if I'm 75% certain, based on a number of different variables, that she is not mad at me?”
“Then she's mad at you.”
Jack swore softly. “I said I was sorry...”
“Then she won't be mad at you for as long. Maybe. I don't really know.”
“Whatever.” Jack pulled his mask off, setting it aside as he pulled his knees into his body. “I tried, at least. That should count for something.”
Jack swore again.